The “Social Network”

November 4, 2011

Political Theory


A few weeks ago, I must confess that I walked into Political Science 101 a few minutes late. When I took a look up from the professor’s angle, I couldn’t help but notice that there were quite a few seats empty. I kept thinking to myself, where did all of the students go? Then finally we came to a lecturetools question, and professor looked up to the camera in the center of the room and said “For all those who are watching this from home, feel free to email your responses to your GSI”.

At first, I must admit I was confused and upset by this comment. After teaching works like Bowling Alone, I would assume that the class would understand the significance of building a strong culture. However, after spending time looking over all the resources available to students via Ctools and Lecturetools, it is clear that the course has started to use tools that actually tamper with rather than build a strong culture within our classroom.

There’s no doubt that the class has taken advantages of new resources, like Lecturetools and the blog, with the goal of enhancing the students learning experience in mind. But should the class accept the cost that these tools have in destroying the culture of our classroom?

Since there is no need for students to talk to teachers or to each other about the class in person, it has actually become much harder for students and teachers to build a unique culture. For example, in a normal classroom, a student with a question would go up to the teacher to discuss his issue or concern. This in-person interaction builds a stronger relationship between the two people and thus a stronger relationship in the classroom. Whereas, in our more advanced classroom, that evokes Lecturetools, this scenario would look a little something like this:

As you can see, there is no in person interactions and no emotional connection being made here between the students and their teachers.

This interaction is exactly the opposite of what Robert Putnam advocates for in his work. Putnam makes the case that it is essential for citizens of a modern democracy to be involved in civic engagement. He argues, “Americans’ propensity for civic association [is] the key to their unprecedented ability to make democracy work”. Through strong social ties, Americans have created better schools, faster economic development, lower crime, a strong standing army, and a more effective government for their country. This example is at the heart of Putnam’s thesis that a unified people can work together to progress society much more efficiently as a group rather than a set of individuals.

However, as Putnam’s article reads on, he uncovers the reality that communities, or at least the sense of community in America has been on the decline over the past few years, “As we have seen, something has happened in America in the last two or three decades to diminish civic engagement and social connectedness. What could that ‘something’ be?” He tries to use the entrance of women into the workforce, along with the constant movement of American families, among other things, as reasons for this separation. However, I think we need to look no farther than the tools used in our Political Science class in order to clearly see this separation.

Take a look at the social media aspect of the class, our blog. If you think about it, what difference is there between the blog and Facebook? Both offer a medium through which people can communicate without actually speaking in person. Granted, its no question that posting comments online is easier than walking around trying to find the person you want to talk to. As people spend less time talking and more time facebooking (yes it’s a verb now also), they are actually decreasing the strength of their social ties because of this lack of in person connection.

These tools are already breaking down culture within this class and within America. I hope that we can recognize and change how we integrate mediums like Lecturetools and Facebook into our daily lives.

Is it possible that one day in the future, a professor could walk into the classroom to give a lecture to her students, but finds an empty room with nothing but a camera there to record her teachings?

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11 Comments on “The “Social Network””

  1. jrphilli Says:

    Our society is moving farther and farther away from actual social interaction. You can have full conversations with people, without even being able to touch them if you wanted to. With technology improving, they are finding more and more ways to make our lives easier, but does easier mean better. We have skype, twitter, facebook, email, cell phones, even video chat on your cell phone. So may applications to limit the human physical interaction. In a sense all of these programs are making us lazy people. Someone can run a business from their home and never have to leave their property. People get so caught up in talking over electronics, they carry that kind of talk into their lives, saying omg, idk, wyd, instead of saying the actual words. Eventually professors ans students will not have to leave their homes to attend class, but they already do this. Hense online classes, virtual classes, and things like lecturetools. I do believe we are headed towards an era where you no longer have to physical see anyone to live your life.
    A good example of where we could be headed, is the movie Surrogate with Brus Willis. In the movie the people did not have to leave the comfort of their chair to experience life. But are they really experiencing life if they can not even touch it.
    Our society needs to get back to time when we had to walk down the street to ask a question, not pick a phone. When we had to hand deliver our mail, not email or text messages. When we have to talk hand written notes, not text on the computer. When we had real interaction with other human beings. Human interaction is an essentail part of growing up, if you are born into this tech savy world, how will you learn to interact with other people without technolgy.

  2. benjishanus Says:

    Personally, I’m very against the technological component of teaching. Its one thing to use a powerpoint in a big lecture in order to assist students with a visual aid and relatively simple notes to follow and build off of. However, it is a completely different story to begin using a tool such as Lecturetools. I think the main issue with Lecturetools is that it makes class too easy. In effect, students become lazy and depend on resources and fellow students for information, rather than having to be accountable for their own notes and own attendance.

    Another issue I have with Lecturetools and technology in general is that it is simply unreliable and inconsistent. There have been several times already this semester in our class alone where we have had to pause due to technical difficulties. There are too many outside factors that must be in place. Issues with the internet and Lecturetools itself has often taken away from the learning experience. On the other hand, when using the “old fashion method” (blackboard and chalk… or even whiteboard and dry-erase markers), it is extremely difficult for something to go wrong. Instead, class is just more simple, rhythmic, and to the point. No one needs to worry about their computer dying or internet crashing.

    Sadly, there could be a future with an empty lecture hall. Technology is endless and anything is possible. It just does not seem like the most feasible way to approach education in my opinion.

  3. benhenri Says:

    Like benjishanus, I believe that students would have more of an incentive and actually want to learn more in their classes without technology, like Lecturetools.
    On another note, I think our neglect of the importance of strengthening community ties and experiencing real human interaction face to face is, in part, due to the incredible size of our university in addition to today’s great advancements in technologically efficiency. It’s huge! We have just a single professor for hundreds of students. But, I believe our university still does a good job of emphasizing the worth of students having a personal relationship with their teachers because we still have our smaller discussion sections with just about 20 students. With one’s section, it is easier to interact with the teacher personally. In fact, I just recently met with my GSI, Hozi, to go over my second paper before it was due, and was pleased to find he was actually quite humorous-something I didn’t really know from his teachings on Mondays at 4pm.
    So, all in all, I agree that our generation is becoming quite lazy, relying on technology to communicate simply because one really just has to make that effort to meet and talk face to face with someone. It depends on the person. I and, hopefully, a few others condemn this new lack of societal togetherness, as Putnam speaks of in his work Bowling Alone. However, I am afraid that the majority of people today, especially of my generation, believe otherwise. Therefore, I think it is this majority that fuels the continuation of this relatively novel, technologically based world.

  4. maxmoray Says:

    You bring up a unique and compelling argument, that I partly agree with. Most of what your saying is that all this social media is hindering the potential relationship between student and professor. For me, I don’t see how social media has any relevance in regards to POLISCI 101. That is, this is a introduction class, that therefore would have a large number of students, leading to a lower amount of chances to communicate with the professor. What separates this huge lecture from all the others? Besides the blog and lecture tool activities you mentioned not much else. These classes have been designed for students to take the initiative to meet with their professors outside of class and to then for that relationship you are looking for. Likewise, section provides an outstanding opportunity for class union and participation. It seems POLISCI section has done a really nice job offering different mini projects and workshops to tackle the arguments conveyed by the political thinkers.
    I do however agree with you in the case that social media, in specific Facebook, is hindering from the human face to face interaction that is necessary during these college years. Too much is being said on the internet and not being conveyed in person, which has led to a vast number of students, I too can admit, in struggling to relay their thoughts without use the word “like” as an every other word filler. As one of my favorite show Califorinication mentioned, it seems all this abbreviated language online, has in turn led to a little bit of the English language lost.

  5. roshray Says:

    I disagree with a lot of the comments posed because they are impractical. People are talking about how technology is slowing down this class, but I’d argue the complete opposite. Most college students can type faster than they write, allowing the professor to move through material quickly without having to slow down so people could get what he was saying down on paper. Additionally, in a huge lecture class, I don’t see the feasibility of going to ask the professor small questions after class when the GSIs can answer them effortlessly during the lecture. Sure you miss out on about 8 seconds of social interaction and about 5 minutes of waiting in line to talk to the professor, but the benefit to the time saving is definitely worth it. Technology is made to facilitate, not replace, social interaction. I’ll admit that it’s better to talk to somebody face to face than it is to talk to them on Facebook, but given certain restraints this is not always feasible. As long as people are able to use practicality in their use of technology, it does not hinder social development.

  6. alexwillard Says:

    Interesting piece. I admit like most of the commenters I believe that lecture tools can be a hindrance, if abused. But I am also of the belief that it is a powerful academic resource if used properly. Sure it may not foster they same type of bond between a professor and student as face to face interaction would, but this is a 100 level class with around 200+ students.
    When thinking about it this way it seems impossible to actually have a meaningful relationship with a professor when he/she is only one person trying to have a bond with 200 people individually. It just can’t happen. Also if he stopped for each person individually we would only have studied Socrates at this point in the class. So in this sense lecture tools can help by allowing us to ask questions to our GSI’s without interrupting a professor.
    I’ll admit I’ve abused lecturetools in my soc classes where I would ask people who attended lecture when there would be an attendance check so I could log on and mark myself as there then log off again. But I’ve only done this a very small number of times. Overall I’ve found lecture tools very helpful resource in addition to attending class and not solely an excuse to skip coming all together.

  7. lnk72792 Says:

    Reading over this post, I believe that looking at the bigger picture, it is the constant innovation in regards to technology that is tampering with person-to-person interactions. As a result of all of these new tools, universities are able to cut costs by implementing different aspects of classes on the internet. It has gotten to the point where some universities do not even physically exist, they only exist on the internet. It is now possible to get a college degree without ever physically attending a classroom. There are even classes at this university that are taught online, without any physical attendance. It can be argued that this is hurting us as a community, limiting human interaction. However, it can also be argued that this is an advantage because it is more efficient, more economical, and saves more time. Like every debate, there are two sides. It depends on how you perceive this issue.

  8. goldman13 Says:

    This post raises an interesting idea – the debate about whether technology brings people closer together or drive people farther apart. You make the argument that the lack of in-person communication create an environment deprived of genuine relationships. While i agree that direct communication is important, i agree more with the above comments (@roshray). Technology had given people the ability to communicate with people around the world, in real time. What used to take days (and even earlier on, weeks) can now occur instantly. Therefore, instead of creating a stagnating social environment, internet networking and online mediums have allowed us to make huge advancements.

    You use the example of lecture tools to describe a student being unable to talk directly to his professor, therefore hindering his educational experience. However, the same technology allows students to communicate with people in different countries, and build bonds with people whom – without technology – they would have never had the option of meeting. The post claims that Facebook “actually decreases the strength of their social ties.” I argue that it expands or breadth of social options, and strengthens our ties of preexisting relationships by allowing us to communicate when we aren’t physically with each other.

  9. bmschmid Says:

    The classroom is one of those dynamic places that evolves with the times and the technology that defines it. Facebook and social media is one of those defining breakthrough of our time. However, there is a line that needs to be drawn between embracing technology in the classroom and actual teaching. Utilizing technology as a supplement to a classical curriculum (i.e. Lecturetools) is beneficial for the future of the American college classroom, however where do you draw the line? Our class has a Facebook and a twitter for information about the class, but it would be too odd if the professors used these social media sites as their primary teaching application. Learning is done through many ways, technology being one of them, however it should never be the primary mode if you want to truly learn. This is not a stab at online Universities, but there is a notable difference between a real university and a cyber university.

    To answer the author last question, I do not believe there will ever be a time where a professor have this encounter where he is just recording himself to his students. Colleges wouldn’t want this nor would I believe that students would too.

  10. #jasonschwartz Says:

    In response to @roshay, the point of my article was to warn people about the dangers and consequences that will follow this overall trend towards efficiency through technology. The first inovation we have made was to “allow students to type, allowing them to move through the material faster” which is by all means a good thing and is reletively similar to writing on a piece of paper. Then another inovation was made with lecturetools to allow students to ask questions online. Now keep in mind that this is the first step that we have taken towards less communication within the classroom (students don’t ask each other or the professor questions) This again, was created for the sake of efficiency.
    My point is, what tool are we going to think of next?? fully online lectures, virtual social networks for all students to get all class info from each other. All of these things we consider tools for the sake of efficiency will eventually cross a line at which point social interaction will be hindered by all, and we will all be “Bowling Alone”

  11. benjishanus Says:

    I would like to further emphasize that the culture of this sort of class is ultimately not beneficial to students. I believe that making technology such an easy means to keep up with a class is what drives apart the relationship between the student and the class. When it is so easy and available to simply watch a lecture at home, many students will naturally want to take advantage of this. While this may be advantageous from a convenience perspective, is a dorm room or frat room ultimately an environment that is well suited for learning and taking in knowledge? That is a serious question that people must ask themselves, however, will likely fail to because they are blinded by the idea of simply not having to attend class on a regular basis.

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